Since it's now the largest producer of coffee in Central America, it is surprising how little is known about how coffee was first introduced to to Honduras.
What is probably the earliest record, dated to 1804, discusses the quality of the coffee produced there. This dates the arrival of coffee to before 1799, as plants would take a few years to produce a crop.
It has only been since 2001 that Honduras' production of coffee has increased dramatically. While the coffee industry drove the growth and development of infrastructure in much of Central America during the 1800s, Honduras' late blossoming meant that the infrastructure simply was not there. This has provided a challenge for quality and has meant that much of the coffee produced under this new expansion was destined for the commodity market. Only more recently have we begun to see excellent coffees coming out of Honduras.
The Honduran Institute of Coffee, (Instituto Hondureno Del Cafe or IHCAFE), was established in 1970 and is working to improve quality: in each of the six regions it has defined, there is a coffee-tasting laboratory to assist local producers.
Honduras was producing just under six million bags of coffee a year by 2011, more than Costa Rica and Guatemala combined. Around 110,000 families are involved in the production of coffee across the country. As for its future, there are concerns about the impact of leaf rust. A state of national emergency was declared after harvests were badly damaged in 2012/13 and the effects of leaf rust usually last a few years.
Classification of coffee Honduras uses a similar system to El Salvador and Guatemala, which describes and categorizes coffees by the altitude at which they were grown. Above 1,200m (3,900ft) coffee can be described as Strictly High Grown (SHG) and above 1000m (3,300ft) as high grown (HG).
Taste profile A range of different flavours are found in Honduran coffees, but the best often have a complex fruity quality, and lively, juicy acidity.
The problem of climate While the land is well suited to growing great coffee, the weather poses a challenge. The high rainfall often makes it difficult to dry the beans after processing, so some producers use a combination of sun drying and mechanical drying. This has landed Honduras with a reputation for producing great coffees that can fade quite quickly, but much work is being done to address this problem. Much of the coffee is warehoused before shipping in extremely hot conditions near Puerto Cortez, which can further degrade it. There are obviously always exceptions to the rule, however, and the very best coffees from Honduras generally hold up better over time.
Traceability It is possible to get high levels of traceability in Honduras, down to estate level or down to specific cooperative or producer group, which is extremely helpful with knowing the integrity in which the coffee is grown.
Here are the main coffee growing regions of Honduras:
Copan Copan is a department in the west of Honduras, named after the city of Copan, famous for its Mayan ruins. The region borders Guatemala, and areas like this remind us of the importance of focusing on exactly where coffee is from rather than simply its country of origin. Geopolitical borders can be somewhat arbitrary.
Altitude: 1000 - 1500m (3,300 - 4900ft) Harvest: November - March Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai
Montecillos This region contains within it several sub-regions of note. The most notable are Marcala, now a protected name, and La Paz. Marcala is a municipality inside the department of La Paz. Roasters are more likely to use these names in order to be more accurate, instead of making their coffee with the wider region name of Montecillos.
Altitude: 1,200 -1,600m (3,900 - 5,200ft) Harvest: December - April Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Pacas
Agalta This region stretches right across the north of Honduras. Much of it is a protected forest, so ecotourism plays a significant role in the local economy.
Altitude: 1,000 - 1,400m (3,300 - 4,600ft) Harvest: December - March Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Typica
Opalaca Opalaca contains within it the southern part of the coffee-producing areas of Santa Barbara, as well as Intibuca and Lempira. It is named after the Opalaca mountains range, which stretches through the region.
Altitude: 1,100 -1,500m (3,600 - 4,900ft) Harvest: November - February Varieties: Bourbon, Catuai, typica
Comayagua This region, in western central Honduras, is a dense tropical rainforest. The city of Comayagua in the region was once the capital city of Honduras.
Altitude: 1,100 - 1,500m (3,600 - 4,900ft) Harvest: December - March Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Typica
El Paraiso This is one of the oldest and also the largest growing region in Honduras, in the east of the country near the border with Nicaragua.
Altitude: 1,000 - 1,400m (3,300 - 4,600ft) Harvest: December - March Varieties: Catuai, Caturra